Book: A Thousand Perfect Notes
Author: C.G. Drews
Published By: Orchard Books
Expected Publication: 7th June (whoops!)
Thanks to Orchard Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early. I have been following the author’s blog (PaperFury!) for the past couple of years and was really excited to read her debut novel, however, I would like to add that the fact that I like and follow the author’s blog had no bearing on my opinions of her novel, these are my honest opinions.
I knew one day I would probably be reviewing Cait’s book on my blog, but I had no idea it would be so soon. As soon as Cait announced her book deal, I was super excited to finally get the chance to read one of her books, and so naturally, I requested it as soon as it was available on UK Netgalley. I have to admit, I didn’t love this one quite as much as I was hoping to, it took me longer than it really should have for me to get into, given that this book is not even 300 pages long, the plot was a little sparse, the setting wasn’t entirely clear and it wasn’t even mentioned until right near the end of the book and there were certain aspects of the writing style I didn’t love. However, I did enjoy the characters and I thought the child abuse was handled thoughtfully and I could really feel for Beck’s pain, so it wasn’t entirely a loss, it just wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping for a book I’d been anticipating for quite a while. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.
Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.
When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?
I will freely admit that my interest in this book came more from the fact that Cait was writing it than my interest in the topic, anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not a massive contemporary YA fan, and although this book does fall on the darker side of contemporary YA that I tend to prefer, I think some of the problems I had with this book are issues I have with a lot of contemporary books, a lot of the time it doesn’t feel like there’s much happening and I don’t really find reading about people’s everyday lives engaging. It wasn’t really until the last couple of chapters of the book that I felt like things were really happening, so for about 75-80% of the book, I felt like I was just watching the characters go through the motions and wasn’t particularly engaged with what they were doing even if I liked them.
It also irritated me that for 90% of the book, I didn’t really know the setting? I actually thought it might be England for a bit, but then Beck doesn’t wear school uniform, so that wouldn’t work, I knew it wasn’t America because Beck refers to the Maestro as “mum” not “mom”, and then I figured Australia because that’s where the author is from, which turned out to be right, but I wish it had been clearer sooner as it’s kind of disconcerting reading a contemporary when you can’t figure out what the setting is.
I did like the characters. I could definitely feel for Beck and his struggle between wanting to protect his sister and therefore play the piano even though he hates it so his mother won’t hurt her and wanting to write his own music. It’s awful to see how low his self esteem is, and watch his mother reinforcing that. I did feel like as a character, he was a bit flat, but considering his home situation, that made sense and I kind of grew to love him anyway! Joey was without a doubt my favourite character in the book, she’s kind of vicious because of her abusive mother, but she’s also cute and likes pink, and glitter and chocolate and you can understand why Beck wants to protect her so much, their sibling relationship was one of my favourite parts of this book.
As for August, I’m kind of in two minds about her. In the beginning, she felt like just a classic hippy stereotype but I came to appreciate her more as the book goes on, she’s a genuinely nice and kind person and really just wants to help Beck out and her family were completely hilarious, it was nice to have a supportive family shown alongside Beck’s abusive mother, because it makes the contrast even sharper.
I liked seeing Beck and August’s friendship develop, they have great banter (Drews certainly has a talent for writing witty banter, something I always appreciate) and it’s nice to see Beck slowly open up more to August and end up developing a genuine connection with her. There’s hints of romance, but rest assured, this is not a love cures all situation and whilst August might give Beck a brief escape from his horrible home life, his relationship with her isn’t the solution to his home problems.
You could definitely feel Drews’ unique voice in there, though I don’t know if that’s just because I’ve been reading her blog for so long, though I can’t necessarily decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing, as oftentimes it feels like Drews, as the author is speaking to you, rather than the characters? I don’t know, it’s just something I noticed whilst I was reading.
I liked certain aspects of the writing, but not others. Drews definitely has a talent for writing dialogue, and the witty banter between the characters was a highlight of the book for me. But it felt like the writing was often a little overdramatic? There were a lot of overdrawn metaphors, and dramatic pauses with the sentences written down the pages and it just felt like a little …..much. Sometimes less is more and I felt like Drews went too far the other way with her writing.
Beck’s mother is an absolute monster and Drews definitely captures how scary and evil she is and you feel Beck’s fear every time she approaches him, not sure whether she’s going to hit her or not and I appreciated that Drews used a woman as the abuser in this story, because so often we see men as the abusers and we forget that women can be just as capable of abusing their children. It was horrible seeing what Beck and Joey went through. However, I felt like there could have been perhaps a little more nuance in her character? I haven’t experienced abuse myself (thankfully) but I feel like the reasons abusers are so good at hiding their abuse is because they aren’t always outwardly awful and although Drews did try to draw some nuance into the Maestro’s character, I reckon there could have been more.
There’s obviously a lot of trigger warnings for this book, as stated by the author, the book contains domestic violence, scenes with blood, self harm fantasies, child abuse and neglect. There’s also emotional abuse as well, so if you are sensitive to any of those things, then avoid this book, it is NOT a light, happy, fluffy book.
Music was almost another character in this book, and I loved that, even though I’m always a little wary reading about music, because it’s not quite the same as listening to it, but Drews showed both Beck’s obsession and hatred of music so well, everything in his life revolves around it, so it definitely feels like another character in the book, even if all the stuff about classical musicians meant very little to me, given that my only experience of playing music was several years of playing clarinet (quite badly) at school!
The chapters were a little long, which considering not much was happening for most of the book contributed to me finding it hard to get into.
I felt like the ending was kind of rushed? I was finally starting to get into things and then it was over! I did like the ending, that it wasn’t a happily ever after for Beck, but that despite being kind of sad, it was still hopeful. So that was good, but it did feel like it came kind of abruptly!
Overall, this was a decent debut, and I reckon if I hadn’t had such high expectations of the book because I’ve been anticipating reading a book by Cait for so long, I might have liked it more. As it is, I was just expecting a bit more from this, especially given how much people were raving about it, but for the most part I found the plot kind of lacking, and although I liked the characters, that wasn’t enough to carry the story for me. I think Cait will definitely go from strength to strength as she writes more and that this was just a starting point and it was by no means bad, it just didn’t blow me away either.
My rating: 3.5/5 (would have been 3 but I added an extra .5 for the last 15%)
BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-There are three named characters, August, Joey and Ida (the Maestro) but since Joey is five, she doesn’t really have more than a sentence or two conversations with anyone and August and Ida barely interact.
My next review will be of Legendary, the sequel to Caraval by Stephanie Garber.